During WWII, American long range bombers decimated German industrial sites in order to shorten the war. In this episode, Phil McGuire of Macon recalls his decision to become a ball turret gunner on a B-17 flying fortress.
The B-17 heavy bomber, bristling with machine guns, is one of the most iconic planes of the war. They could survive heavy damage and still make it home again. Even so, being part of a B-17 crew was a high risk job with the most dangerous position being ball turret gunner. The tiny motorized Plexiglas and aluminum pods, tucked underneath the fuselage, held twin 50 caliber Browning machine guns. Unlike the rest of the crew, the ball turret gunner had no room to wear a flak jacket or parachute and had to lie on his back in a fetal position with his feet held in foot rests level with his head. McGuire discusses how he would tie his parachute in the plane’s waist close to his station in hopes of reaching it in time.
German forces relied on FLAK guns to protect them from Allied aircraft in WWII. McGuire describes his first bombing mission and the harmless-looking puffs of smoke the guns put before them. In the early days of the war, American bombers had to fly daylight missions deep into enemy territory without fighter escorts. McGuire recounts how one of his crewmembers mistook hostel gunfire as a friendly signal.
Podcast Bonus: Bomber crews were required to complete 25 combat missions before returning home. It was estimated the average crewman had only a one in four chance of actually completing his tour of duty. McGuire discusses fulfilling his obligation and spending the rest of the war as an aerial combat instructor.
Bay St. Louis native, Henry Capdepon, was 18 years old when the United States entered WWI in April of 1917. In this episode, Capdepon shares his memories of the two years and two months he spent serving in the trenches and on the battlefields of Europe. He describes his decision to enlist with the Marines as a “thirst for adventure.”
When Capdepon joined the Marines, the journey to the front lines of France was long and difficult. He recalls being packed into troop ships and the boxcars that could hold forty men or eight horses. Despite international bans on the use of chemical weapons, poison gases were widely used in WWI. He remembers seeing his first mustard gas victim and the dangers of chemical warfare.
After a two year tour of duty, Capdepon returned to Bay St. Louis, but had difficulty adjusting to civilian life. He discusses seeking medical help for symptoms that might be diagnosed as PTSD, today. He also looks back with pride at his decision to join the American Legion and the Society of Forty Men and Eight Horses: a charitable and patriotic organization whose purpose is “To uphold and defend the United States Constitution of the United States, to promote the well-being of veterans, their widows, widowers, and orphans, and to actively participate in selected charitable endeavors, which include among others, programs that promote child welfare and nurses training.” [Source: http://www.fortyandeight.org ]
PHOTO: By Feddacheenee - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15696349
After Japan attacked the US Navy Base at Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, thousands of American teenagers volunteered to go and fight. In this episode, humorist Jerry Clower of Liberty, Mississippi, explains how growing up on a farm prepared him for life in the Navy. Raised in the rural South, Clower’s perceptions of race were limited to Black or White. He recalls an incident in basic training that opened his eyes to a wider world of ethnicity and prejudice. (caution: uses a racist word that he had never heard prior to joining up.)
Clower served as a radio operator on the aircraft carrier, USS Hornet, in the Pacific Theater. He remembers the battles for Iwo Jima and Okinawa and the lessons they learned from each.
While serving aboard the Hornet, Clower survived several attacks by Kamikazes. He describes feeling conflicted about watching the Japanese pilots die, and discusses suffering from symptoms of PTSD for many years after the war.
PHOTO: courtesy of the Clower family.
Troy H. Middleton was born on a farm in Copiah County, Mississippi in 1890 and lived there until he was fourteen years old when he left to attend Mississippi A&M College preparatory department. A&M was a land grant college, therefore it had military training in which the students were required to participate. Middleton rose through the ranks until his senior year when he was promoted to Cadet Lieutenant Colonel. After graduation, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the US Army in 1913 and took part in the Mexican Border Campaign of 1914.
When the United States entered World War I, Middleton went to France as a company commander and by the end of the war he had received three promotions in one year becoming the youngest colonel in the Army. He then became the Dean of Administration for Louisiana State University. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, he returned to active duty and subsequently went to Europe, participating in the North African, Sicilian and Italian Campaigns before going to Normandy for the main campaign against Germany as Commander of the Eighth Corps.
In this episode, Middleton discusses the traits of a good leader and how to earn the respect of your subordinates. He remembers his longtime friend and fellow commander, General George Patton. He shares his opinions of Patton’s good and bad points. According to Middleton, Patton had no qualms about visiting the front lines any time of the day or night. He shares a humorous story of a late night visit by Patton and his encounter with a sleeping soldier.
The Battle of the Bulge was the last German offensive of WWII. It was Middleton who made the decision to hold the town of Bastogne against overwhelming opposition, in the winter of 1944. Although he was heavily criticized by Patton at the time, it turned out to be the right choice. He reflects on what it meant to the course of the war.
PHOTO: L-R, Middleton, Eisenhower, Patton
African-American soldiers returned home to the Jim Crow South after WWII, determined to press for an end to black voter suppression and “separate but equal” segregation laws. In this episode we examine the military career and civil rights activism of Taylor Howard of Gulfport.
Howard was drafted into the all-black, 92nd Infantry Division in 1942. He recalls the racial tensions they encountered while training in Louisiana, as well as, their trek from the Arizona desert to the Italian Alps.
After the Battle of Anzio, entrenched German forces inflicted heavy losses on the 92nd Infantry Division in Northern Italy. Howard recounts how a regiment of Japanese-American soldiers helped turn the tide.
African-American soldiers returned home after the war, convinced they would now be treated as equals. Howard remembers being denied the right to vote by a group of angry white poll-watchers the following year.
PHOTO: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2181029
Staff Sergeant Undaryl Allen of the Mississippi Army National Guard was deployed to Iraq in fall of 2004. In this episode, he shares his memories of that time in this interview conducted in May of 2006. Although trained as a mechanic, Allen’s first month was spent as a gunner on escort duty. He explains how his faith and his family helped him handle the stress of going out on patrol.
As an army mechanic serving in Iraq, Allen worked on a variety of combat equipment. He recalls repairing vehicles in which his friends were injured or killed. While serving in Iraq, Allen was assigned to a Forward Operating Base near Bagdad. He describes how he and his tent-mates would pool their resources for “home cooked” meals.
PODCAST EXTRA: Allen and his crew would occasionally be shelled by enemy forces while retrieving broken down vehicles, forcing them to run for cover. Looking back on those dangerous times, he finds humor in their mad scrambles to the bunker.
PHOTO: Hannah Heishman, Pinterest
When the United States entered WWII, A.J. Jones of Hattiesburg decided to become a Navy fighter pilot. In this episode, he shares his memories of that experience, beginning with the training he received and all those who died trying to learn to land on an aircraft carrier.
As a navy fighter pilot, Jones was assigned to a carrier group in the Pacific Theater. He recounts targeting Japanese ships and supplies around the Lingayen Gulf in January of 1945. The following month, Jones’s carrier, the USS Bismarck Sea was part of the task force assigned to take the Japanese island of Iwo Jima. He remembers providing air support for the Marines on the ground and how his carrier was sunk by kamikazes during the battle. After the ship went down, the survivors of the 1,000-man crew waited to be rescued as the battle raged on shore. Later, when they witnessed the American flag raised over nearby Mount Suribachi, cheers arose, even as they mourned the loss of their 318 shipmates.
PHOTO: By U.S. Navy - U.S. Navy photo 80-G-240135 from Navsource.org, Public Domain
After the Empire of Japan attacked the US Naval Base in Hawaii and declared war on the United States, Americans of Japanese descent were forcibly relocated to internment camps, out of fear they would be loyal to the emperor. But, by the time Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, many Japanese-American men were already serving in the US military. In this episode, Herbert Sasaki recalls coming to Camp Shelby in South Mississippi to join the 442nd, a newly formed infantry unit of Japanese-American volunteers.
Growing up in Los Angeles, Sasaki was used to driving the most modern highways in the nation. His memories of Hattiesburg include, waiting in long lines and getting stuck in the mud, a lot.
The 442nd was a rapid deployment force tasked with creating breaks in the German lines. Sasaki explains how early success by the regiment convinced General Eisenhower to use them as much as possible. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team is considered the most decorated unit in US history. He looks back with pride at the sacrifices made by these loyal Americans during WWII.
Transport pilots ferried soldiers and supplies between the Pacific Islands during WWII. While the pilots of fighter planes and bombers garnered all the glory, it was the transport pilots whose bravery kept the war going—bringing in cargo, taking out the wounded, delivering mail, escorting fighters to new locations—all while under the constant threat of attack from the enemy and mother nature. In this episode, Nevin Sledge of Cleveland, Mississippi, remembers flying his primitive cargo plane through all kinds of hazardous conditions.
Sledge shares several stories with us about the daily challenges they faced. He recalls how delaying a scheduled flight to Guam until the next morning resulted in the loss of forty wounded men. And how the US Navy construction battalion known as the See Bees, built a landing strip on that island in just ten days.
PODCAST BONUS: On the remote islands, far from US repair facilities, transport crews found creative ways to keep their planes in the air. Sledge recounts having to replace one of his wings using coconut logs and handful of tools.
No soldiers faced more hardships than the infantry, during WWII. In this episode, James Mulligan details his time with the 103rd Infantry Division, known as the Cactus Division, as they fought their way across Europe in the winter of 1945.
In the harsh cold, the uniforms the men depended on were barely adequate, according to Mulligan. He describes his army-issued weapons and clothing, as well as, the ready-to-eat meals known as “K-rations” and the four cigarettes each contained. During both world wars, tobacco companies provided free cigarettes to US soldiers and encouraged the families back home to send cartons of ‘smokes’ to the men as well. A practice Mulligan describes in his interview as a “life sentence.”
Mulligan made friends with several of the men he served with on the front lines. He discusses sharing a foxhole and his regret of losing contact with those soldiers after the war.
Podcast Extra: In March of 1945, Mulligan was shot in the leg during a firefight with the Germans in the Upper Rhine Valley. He shares his memories of the hospital in Dijon, France where he was still recovering when Germany surrendered.
The U.S. Navy’s Construction Battalions, known as the Seabees, built roads and airfields across the Pacific Theater during WWII. In this episode, James Smith recalls his service with the Seabees beginning in 1943. Smith shares his memories of training with the Marines and the trip through the Panama Canal on the first large ship he ever saw. He also discusses how the Seabees would distill their own bootleg whiskey and his unconventional way of doing laundry aboard their small transport ship.
PODCAST EXTRA: Smith’s last assignment as a Seabee was repairing an airfield on the recently-liberated island of Okinawa. He discusses the Okinawans’ history with the Japanese and the devastating cost of “liberation.”
Born in 1906 in Himera, Indiana, Esther Stanton was just 14 years old when she began playing piano at the local nickelodeon. These were the days of silent movies, when musicians set the mood for the flicking images on the big screen. In this episode, she explains how live music was used to enhance the movie-going experience before “talkies” came along.
It was this experience that prepared Stanton for a career as a professional pianist. Along the way, she met several famous entertainers, like Red Skelton, one of the most beloved comedians of the Twentieth Century, who grew up in nearby Vincennes, Indiana. Stanton recalls playing piano for Skelton in home talent shows and discusses his meteoric rise to fame.
When WWII erupted, Stanton joined the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corp or WACS, serving as director of the female dance band. When the WAC became part of the regular army, Stanton chose not to reenlist because of the limited opportunities being offered them. After leaving the WAC, Stanton formed an “all-girl” jazz band with several of her former band-mates. She credits the band's popularity to the shortage of male musicians during the war.
PODCAST EXTRA: While touring with her band in the 1940s, Ester Stanton met, and became friends with, popular pianist and showman, Liberace. She remembers his friendly demeanor and devotion to his mother.
In 1954, as half of a performing duo with her husband, Stanton moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast. She played and performed until 1966, when she retired in Biloxi.
The Battle for Guadalcanal, known as Operation Watchtower was the first major offensive by Allied Forces against the Nation of Japan during WWII. Willie Hammack served on the crew of the U.S. Navy destroyer Sterett (DD-407) during the Battle for Guadalcanal. In this episode, he recalls their mission to support the Marines on the islands while fighting off the Imperial Japanese Navy.
During the Third Battle for Savo Island in WWII, half of Hammack’s shipmates were killed or injured. As the night battle raged on Hammack describes assisting the ship’s doctor, despite being wounded himself and holding a friend’s hand as he died. He remembers the fierce ship-to-ship fighting and the advantage radar gave the US Navy. After the battle was over he recounts the 20+ burials at sea and the welcome back they received from the Pacific fleet when they reached Pearl Harbor.
PHOTO: By U.S. Navy, photographed from a USS Chenango (CVE-28) aircraft. - Official U.S. Navy photo 80-G-321653 from the U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1991079
William Locke was living in the Gulfport Naval Home in 1999, when he shared his memories of Pearl Harbor with us. In this episode, he recalls with pride being assigned to the battleship U.S.S. Pennsylvania, in 1939, the flagship of the Pacific fleet. He remembers how they were sent to Hawaii for a three-month training mission at the Pearl Harbor Naval Base, a place they had heard of, but knew little about.
That three-month assignment stretched into two years and Locke was waiting for their return trip stateside, at which time he would be discharged and on his way home. History had other plans.
Locke recounts the events leading up to the “Day which will live in infamy.” How he and a friend left the ship that Saturday to watch a University of Hawaii football game. He recalls waking up the next morning as Japanese dive bombers began to attack the fleet. During the battle, Locke looked on as the low-flying enemy planes relentlessly attacked anything that moved. He describes feeling helpless and relates how a shipmate’s body saved him from an exploding bomb.
After the attack, Locke compiled damage and casualty reports for the Navy. He explains how the U.S.S. Pennsylvania’s trip to dry dock for routine maintenance the day before, saved them from a torpedo, but how claims from the Japanese of sinking what they thought was the Admiral’s ship, lead his parents to think he was dead for ten days. He also discusses the horrible things he witnessed and why his memories still haunt him today.
The Korean Conflict began in June of 1950, when North Korea invaded South Korea. Aubrey Freshour of Noxubee County joined the Army in October of 1951, as the war was heating up. In this episode, he shares his memories of that time like how his basic training got off to a rough start, the long journey from San Francisco to the front lines, and the importance of wearing dry socks during the harsh Korean winters.
During his sixteen-month deployment, Freshour often experienced times of loneliness and uncertainty. He credits his creator and letters from home with giving him the strength to make it though and shares with us the full experience from beginning to end.
As the son of a WWII Marine fighter pilot, Hardy Stennis of Macon, Mississippi was determined to follow in his father’s footsteps. In this episode, Stennis discusses his military career spent as a combat pilot during the 1950s & 60s. Determined to see the world, he requested to be stationed in Suga, Japan immediately after graduating flight school. At that time, regulations required that new graduates be assigned to a stateside training squadron, but somehow Stennis was granted his request. He remembers how a veteran pilot named Trigger Long took him under his wing and gave him the chance he needed.
According to Stennis, there were plenty of ways for a young pilot to get into trouble in Japan in those days. He credits the fatherly advice of a major who encouraged him to stay away from wild living and stay in shape if he wanted to excel as a fighter pilot. It was the major who convinced Stennis to try out of a local rugby team in Yokohama.
Stennis goes on to detail his involvement in the Vietnam War. He remembers a mission to destroy a ferry in Laos, wiping out a large group of North Vietnamese soldiers attacking the Fifth Marines, and an altercation afterwards with an overbearing reporter.
Ernest Potter boarded a troop ship bound for Italy on September 5, 1944, the same day his daughter was born. In this episode, he shares his memories of receiving the news a month later and meeting boxing legend Joe Louis. He also describes the luxurious accommodations of his first post and the primitive conditions of his second.
Working an air traffic controller with the Allied Forces, Ernest Potter’s group supported the British 8th Army. He discusses how much tea the British drank during the course of a day, how the Germans would shell their positions at night and recounts a couple of opportunities he had to aid a young Italian girl and a German POW.
Extended conflicts in the middle east have meant extended deployments for our troops. Time spent away from home, often in combat situations, can be stressful for soldier and family alike. In this episode, Brigade Commander Trent Kelly discusses a variety of challenges faced by the modern military family. Since joining the army in 1985, Kelly has been deployed to Iraq multiple times. He shares how growing up in Union, Mississippi, his family and his church inspired him to serve, the periods of adjustments that soldiers and their families face once they are reunited, and why it is so important for them to have a core support group of family and friends.
Additionally, Kelly offers his prospective on the needs of our veterans, including an overhaul of the VA medical system and problems related to PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Learning to recognize the symptoms of PTSD has taught him that the soldiers who need treatment the most are the least likely to ask for help.
Sidney Land of Los Angeles joined the U.S. Navy in 1952 after graduating high school, so he was well into his military career by the time he came to Vietnam in the mid-60s. He eventually became a patrol officer on a PBR (patrol boat river) working to disrupt enemy supply lines along the upper Saigon river. Because of his experience and interest in Vietnamese culture, he became an advisor for several of the South Vietnamese boat crews that patrolled alongside the U.S. Navy crews.
In this episode, Land discusses how he earned the respect of the Vietnamese by learning their culture, recalls being the guest of honor at a funeral for a Vietnam boat captain, and recounts a moonlight river battle with the Viet Cong that landed him and two of his crew in a MASH unit.
This interview was conducted in 2002 at the U.S. Naval Home in Gulfport, MS that Hurricane Katrina destroyed in 2005.
Photo: Aad Born, Flickr.com
Irene Smith was 17 years old when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. As her older brother prepared to go off to fight for his country, Smith began to search for some way she too could serve during this time of national crisis. When the women’s branch of the U. S. Naval Reserve, known as the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service) was established in July of 1942, she went to the recruiting office to enlist, but was turned away because the minimum age at that time was 20.
In this episode, Smith recalls biding her time until she met the age requirement by going to business school, working nights in a factory and picking up shifts at the local five and dime. When she was finally old enough to join, Smith trained as a mechanic. She explains that although women were allowed to perform many important jobs during WWII, old sexist attitudes remained. Smith details how gender bias affected her role as an aviation machinist’s mate. She also looks back fondly at the Chief Petty Officer they called Pappy Vaughn.
As a machine gunner in the U.S. Army during WWII, Robert Leslie survived some of the bloodiest battles of the European Theater. In this episode, he shares some of those memories that still haunt his dreams. He recalls his company’s first battle to take Saint Dié, France in November of 1944 and how his soldiers were saved from a booby-trapped roadblock by a herd of pigs.
Later, as the Allied Forces pushed across the Siegfried Line, a defensive wall along Germany’s western border, Leslie endured bitter cold, deprivation, and the anguish of losing so many of his fellow soldiers to the horrors of modern warfare.
The podcast ends on a high note as he remembers the 761st Tank Battalion, the first armored combat group comprised of African-Americans. Even whites from the segregated South recognized the bravery and skills of these tankers and Leslie credits them with saving his life on more than one occasion.
In preparation for the Invasion of Sicily, a key first step for the liberation of Europe during WWII, the 82nd Airborne Division traveled by boat to the North African city of Casablanca in the spring of 1943 to prepare and train. In this episode, General Elmo Bell of Wiggins recalls the hot, arid countryside and being greeted by the Red Cross.
On the night of July 9th, 1943, U. S. Army paratroopers parachuted behind enemy lines on the tiny island of Sicily. Separated and alone, Bell recounts the harrowing events that followed as he attempted to find and regroup his scattered unit. His memories of that night and the following day are graphic and disturbing.
After 15 years under fascist rule, the reactions of the Sicilians to Allied forces were mixed. Bell describes the generational divide of the local population and the large number of political prisoners they liberated.
Warning: this episode includes graphic descriptions of combat!
In 1942, Brigadier General Elmo Bell of Wiggins was working as a contractor, building barracks for soldiers at various military bases around the South. At that time, he had a low opinion of the Army and so when he came to Hattiesburg, it was with the intention of joining the Marines.
In this episode, he recalls how an Army recruiter convinced him to become a paratrooper and shares his memories of Paratrooper Jump School. He discusses how the Airborne Infantry attracted a special breed of soldier and why some of the strongest candidates washed out of the program.
PODCAST EXTRA: As WWII progressed, the equipment Paratroopers used evolved to meet the challenges they encountered in actual combat. Bell discusses some of the many hazards they faced.
In March of 1942, the first African-American armored combat unit was formed at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana. Viewed by army brass as more of a novelty or public relations tool, the 761st might never have seen combat were it not for General George S. Patton who requested they be placed under his command. In this episode, James Jones of Laurel discusses the history of the 761st tank battalion. Jones was serving at a replacement depot outside of Paris when he assigned to the 761st as a replacement. He recalls being trained to operate a tank just five miles from the front and how the European populace reacted to seeing black soldiers.
On December 16, 1944, Germany launched a major counteroffensive through the Ardennes Forest in an effort to cut off Allied supply lines. Jones recounts the often overlooked but vital role the 761st played in the Battle of the Bulge.
After the attack on the Naval Base at Pearl Harbor in 1941, America declared war on Japan. In this episode, Laurel native, Doris Barwick recalls how their community responded. Young men, some not even out of high school, volunteered for service by the thousands and soon found themselves on the front lines in Europe and the Pacific.
As a result of intense fighting during WWII and later the Korean Conflict, many of these soldiers suffered from battle fatigue, known today as PTSD, for years afterwards. To treat the lingering effects of PTSD, they often turned to alcohol.
Doris Barwick remembers her husband’s frequent nightmares and describes how he overcame his addiction. After getting sober himself, Jim Barwick became a drug and alcohol counselor and spent his remaining seventeen years helping others.
Image: 2,000 Yard Stare by Thomas Lea, c 1944 Life Magazine